Ausgabe 42/2007

SPIEGEL Interview with Airbus CEO Thomas Enders 'The Game Is Just Beginning'

Airbus chief executive Thomas Enders, 48, discusses insider trading accusations, past management mistakes and the difficulties the European aerospace giant faces in becoming a normal company.

Airbus delivered the first A380 to Singapore Airlines on Monday.

Airbus delivered the first A380 to Singapore Airlines on Monday.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Enders, you are the fifth CEO of Airbus in the space of only two years. As a former paratrooper, how does it feel being in the ejection seat?

Enders: When you're going into a difficult mission as a paratrooper, you know that success is not guaranteed. The same applies in my job. As the former co-CEO of parent company EADS, I don't exactly see Airbus as unknown terrain. In other words, I knew what to expect.

SPIEGEL: Does that also apply to the recent insider trading investigation by the French financial supervision authority, the AMF? The agency accuses you and other senior executives, past and present, of having sold stock at a time when you were already aware of looming production problems with the A380 super-jumbo jet.

Enders: I was surprised and shocked by the suspicions and accusations in the press. To this date, I am not familiar with the alleged document from the French financial supervision authority. This is an impossible case. Of course, we are looking into steps we can take to fight it. But the investigation itself is not surprising. After all, I was just at a hearing before the AMF three weeks ago.

SPIEGEL: Is there anything to the accusations?

Enders: No, absolutely not. It is a known fact that, in 2004 and in November 2005, I participated in a stock options program for executives that was approved by the supervisory board. At the time, I saw no reason to assume that this sort of transaction could later be described as questionable.

SPIEGEL: The AMF bases its suspicions on concrete evidence that the supervisory board, of which you were also a member, discussed impending cost increases for the A380. In October, the decision was made to spread the additional cost across three years of balance sheets to prevent EADS stock from plummeting.

Enders: Noël Forgeard, the head of Airbus at the time, announced in the early summer of 2005 that initial deliveries would be delayed by up to half a year. This information had not changed by November. At the time, Airbus management was trying to get a handle on the problems with the A380. When we realized, in June 2006, that our efforts were not successful, we announced this to the public right away. And then it took us until October to reveal the entire truth.

SPIEGEL: Your new boss, EADS chief Louis Gallois, has proposed getting rid of stock options altogether at EADS in the future. Do you support his proposal?

Enders: That's a decision for the EADS shareholders. I don't get mixed up in that. But if there is a compensation model, it should be possible to use it.

SPIEGEL: Do you have any idea why the preliminary results of the AMF investigation are being leaked to the public precisely at this point?

Enders: No, I don't. But it is clear that the headlines come at a particularly bad time for us. We are just now getting back on our feet. The first A380 is about to be delivered to Singapore Airlines. Customers are ordering the A380 once again: British Airways recently and then, just a few days ago, Spain's Grupo Marsans. The same applies to our brand-new long-range jet, the A350 XWB.

SPIEGEL: The delivery of the first A380 on Monday of this week marks the preliminary end of an almost two-year cliffhanger. To complete the jet on time, employees had to be transferred to the Toulouse assembly plant from all across Europe. How much longer to you plan to produce the jet using this costly individualized approach?

Enders: The first wave of 25 planes, including the five test aircraft, will in fact be produced in what is essentially manual labor. For the second wave, a modern, harmonized IT system will be used which does, in fact, make industrial series production possible.

SPIEGEL: Are further delays possible?

Graphic: The Runway Duel

Graphic: The Runway Duel

Enders: In fact, we still have the biggest challenge ahead of us. The A380 program will only be over the hump once we manage to ramp up production in the next two years according to plan. We plan to deliver 13 aircraft next year and, by 2010, to reach four aircraft a month. These are ambitious goals.

SPIEGEL: How many aircraft do you have to sell to turn a profit?

Enders: Boeing wouldn't give you an answer if you asked them the same question about their 787 long-range jet. But I am confident that the plane will be worthwhile for us in the long term. The excitement with which the heads of major airlines walk through their aircraft, inspecting their cabins, speaks volumes. The A380 happens to be a fascinating aircraft. I predict that this is only the beginning of the second wave of orders.

SPIEGEL: Your other big problem is the A350, the model that's competing with the 787. It had to be completely revised, in response to pressure from customers. How could this happen?

Enders: It's very simple: We had underestimated Boeing. We hope that will never happen to us again.


© DER SPIEGEL 42/2007
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